I’ve always struggled with the whole populist thing. The movement’s canned rhetoric, with all its emotional triggers and very few facts, seems like a foolish way to make decisions to me. It comes with almost a religious zeal to it that, while it has some sizzle to it, usually falls pretty short on actual meat. It’s loaded with buzzwords meant to solicit automatic negative responses without thought and, of course, it has to create some evil that the movement is valiantly opposing.
In today’s marketing debate over the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), the populists love comparing the situation to Wall Street or, worse yet, Wall Street bankers. After all, we all know Wall Street bankers are corrupt and have greatly harmed the working man.
These populists also castigate producer organizations like the National Pork Producers Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association as being tools of the evil packers. I’m a cow-calf producer, so I can accept that those upstream are evil without needing any explanation. After all, we all know that feeders, packers and retailers are evil. Better yet, we all know that large, corporate, multi-national feeders, packers and retailers are evil.
In fact, packers are evil without needing any explanation. But I’ll admit I have trouble understanding how these member organizations are always duped into voting against their best interests and supporting the evil modern agricultural complex.
By castigating these producer organizations, these populists are by extension calling into question the integrity of thousands of dedicated producers who simply have a difference in opinion with them; but that doesn’t seem to matter to these populists.
Then there is the use of words like captive supply, which translates into “packer domination” in their vocabulary – don’t worry about the economic analyses that don’t show the kind of impact they claim; everyone knows it's true, right? Forget about those pesky studies and economic models that say different.
Production contracts are also evil; forget about the fact that most of these programs were initiated by producers or feeders and were created so that they could better manage their own risk. But, once again, these producers are either idiots or are selling out all other producers in an effort to better themselves.
If you divide the debate among those who believe the industry’s contraction and economic woes rest mainly on lack of demand, and those who believe it is the result of unfair market concentration, I believe the data overwhelmingly supports the demand side of the debate. However, the two are not mutually exclusive.
It doesn’t mean, for instance, that we don’t have some issues within our marketing system that could stand some tweaking. But the debate needs to be on the solutions not on the causes, because the law of unintended consequences is potentially devastating. Nobody wants “undue or unreasonable preference or advantage,” but neither do we want to adopt a cure that will actually increase the problem.
Perhaps I’m from another planet, but arrangements between willing buyers and sellers sounds a lot like capitalism to me. It might be messy but usually, in the long run, one’s time is better spent improving his or her competitive position than trying to protect a business from its competition.
Finally, have you stopped to think that the only group that seems universally supportive of the new GIPSA regulations are lawyers? That tells me a lot. That tells me a whole lot.